Cage: What goes down must get up

There is a saying: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I am currently working on a few cases that disprove that. But, what most of rehab is, is teaching injured pets OLD tricks like standing, walking and playing with toys. These are all things Cage’s spinal cord “forgot” how to tell his legs to do. His mind, however, remembered.

Now that we had found his motivation (the proper toy), I was fairly confident Cage would walk on his own again. His mind had been clouded by frustration and depression. With those cleared out of the way, he could focus on what he enjoyed doing.

His parents did their best to remain positive, but while Cage mentally progressed they had a slight regression. This happens in almost all intense neurological recoveries. Caregiver fatigue is a problem in veterinary and human medicine.

Where I saw the small improvements, they saw their beloved pet losing weight, falling down and taking forever to walk. At that same time, I saw a pet that was trying, giving his effort day in and day out to work against the gravity that was keeping him down.

At each drop off and pick up, I reassured them of the progress I was seeing. With each passing day, Cage could walk for longer times and distances in the underwater treadmill. Now I just had to open the treadmill door and he would walk over and voluntarily get in to workout. Cage was also now following Rebecca and myself around the rehab room to play fetch.

Cage’s time in the underwater treadmill was steadily rising. He started out barely doing 5 minutes at 0.5mph before needing a break. Over the next two months, he would improve to 60-80 minutes at 1.2-1.5 mph! He stopped losing weight and started maintaining it. In the last few weeks, he had gained weight back.

All of this work is extremely tiring. Muscles, joints, ligaments need rest. So does the mind. After ten weeks of rehab at 4 days a week in the hospital, I felt that Cage needed a little holiday. He had been resting at home on Wednesdays but on weekends was walking in the lake and yard at home.

His parents schedule didn’t allow for him to go home on Tuesday night, so he stayed and rested here on Wednesday. We did a lighter rehab session on Thursday and he went home that night. His instructions were: Rest Friday, have FUN Saturday and relax Sunday. By doing this, he would be ready for work on Monday. They asked me for more details other than “fun” for Saturday. I told them to make it up, figure out what he wanted to do, involve him in activities and just enjoy the day.

When Cage was dropped off that Monday morning, I was greeted by smiles and laughter. A three-day weekend was exactly what everyone needed. A little bit of rest did the whole family good, and Cage had a great time playing in the water and walking around the yard. His folks saw the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”.

The next few weeks of rehab flew by. Each day Cage seemed stronger, more willing to be involved with daily activities. We had set him up in the middle of the large rehab room so that we could interact with him. Now I had to start closing doors behind me because he would interrupt the consults or phone calls in my office. He wanted to be involved with what Rebecca and I were doing. And, for the most part, we gladly let him.

Even the simple act of typing up charts at my desk would have Cage strewn across my feet. He was back doing his old tricks and being part of life.

As he continued to gain weight, his independence improved. He could do more outside and steadily learned how to step over objects in his way (as opposed to tripping over or going around them). As we approached Labor Day, we gave him another long weekend to recharge his batteries.

In mid September, Cage and his family moved back to the Boston area for a few months. He still has a ways to go in recovering but I am sure he will continue to improve under the watch of his family and his neurosurgeon while out there.

Here is a link to video of him walking to his car to go home.

I look forward to seeing him walk in to see me in a few months.

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